|Unforgettable odors, hissing steam vents, and a spectacular display of rainbow colors stimulate the senses on a tour of the Norris Area’s most popular visitor sites. Packed with geothermal features around every corner, the Norris Area is home to a high concentration of geysers and thermal wonders that appear starkly different from one year to the next. Loop trails wind near most of the area’s favorite features, and many trails are wheelchair accessible.
Porcelain Basin Terrace Overlook
Situated in the northern portion of the Norris Geyser Basin, Porcelain Basin is renowned for its wide variety of geysers. Featuring both active and inactive displays, Porcelain Basin is cloaked in a thin rock layer that pulses with the movement of underground pressure and steam. New geysers are born with little notice, and while some last for weeks, others last just minutes before dying out.
Congress Pool. NPS Photo
Congress Pool is just one of many Norris features that experience dramatic disturbances to its “normal” thermal activity. While most visitors report that Congress Pool is a tranquil pool showcased in pale blue, others view the site as a boiling violet or muddy pool. Although such violent changes in Congress Pool’s activity have yet to be fully explained, it has been noted that most shifts in thermal activity occur during late summer or early fall. Disturbances may last from just a few short hours to as long as a week before returning to “normal.”
Black Growler Steam Vent
Located on the 0.75-mile Porcelain Basin boardwalk, the Black Growler Steam Vent is one of the basin’s hottest features. Steam violently erupts from a fumarole (vent) at temperatures ranging from 199 to 280 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ledge Geyser. NPS Photo
Equipped with enough thermal power to shoot out 125-foot tall water towers, Ledge Geyser is distinguished as the Norris Geyser Basin’s second largest geyser. On most occasions, however, the geyser prefers to explode at an angle, spraying water over 220 feet away. Although Ledge Geyser historically erupted at fourteen-hour intervals, the geyser is just as famous for its periods of inactivity. Between 1979 and 1993, the geyser remained quiet. Then, in 1994 and 1995, the geyser suddenly awakened with eruption intervals of four to six days. Today, the geyser intermittently spews its thermal secrets.
Porcelain Basin Hot Springs
Milky white mineral deposits of siliceous sinter provide Porcelain Basin Hot Springs with its logical name. After hot water carries the mineral to the surface, a thin white sheet spreads across the flat basin. This mineral layer (also known as geyserite) seals off existing hot springs and geysers, forcing the hot underground water to circulate to a weaker area where it is able to release pressure and blow through the white crust. The process is continually repeated, ensuring that Porcelain Basin is one of the most active regions within Yellowstone.
Norris Geyser Basin’s Bacteria and Colorful Water
Although most of Norris’ thermal wonders feature extremely acidic water, unique bacteria thrive upon such harsh conditions and add spectacular coloring to geysers and basins. Microscopic Cyanidium algae cast a lime green presence while Cyanobacteria coats Porcelain Basin’s runoff streams with rust-colored deposits.
In addition to providing natural coloring to Yellowstone’s thermal features, these organisms have also played key roles in recent scientific research. DNA fingerprinting technology and innovations in AIDS/HIV research has depended upon these tiny Yellowstone inhabitants.
This geyser, originally known as Iris Spring as early as 1886, was accidentally renamed Blue Geyser in 1904 when an early area map was misread and redrawn. Although Blue Geyser once regularly erupted over sixty feet, the geyser has remained dormant since February 1997.
Poised as though its ready to erupt at any moment, Veteran Geyser captures the interest of faithful geyser watchers ready to wait for an unpredictable performance. The geyser, which reaches heights up to forty feet, erupts at intervals varying from twenty minutes to three hours.
Possessing water that swirls in its crater every time it erupts, Whirligig Geyser was named after this unique characteristic. Nearby, the inactive Little Whirligig is speckled with iron oxide deposits and is noted as one of Porcelain Basin’s most colorful geysers.
Joined underground with Steamboat Geyser, Cistern Spring is normally a crystal blue pool overflowing with water. In contrast to many Yellowstone geysers that build one-half to one-inch sinter deposits over the course of an entire century, Cistern Spring is quite productive and deposits up to one-half inch of gray sinter annually! Its topographical influence is far reaching. Lodgepole trees once dotted the landscape but have retreated and died with the continual flooding of Cistern Spring’s silica rich water.
Located in Norris’ Back Basin, Emerald Spring draws its unique color from sulfur deposits and refracted light. Lined with yellow sulfur that crystallizes at the Earth’s surface, the twenty-seven-foot deep pool combines this brightly colored sulfur with reflected blue light to create an amazing green appearance. During major eruptions at nearby Steamboat, Cistern Spring’s vast pool of water drains completely dry. Such occasions, however, are rare, so most visitors view Cistern Spring in its normal overflowing blue splendor.
Boasting a 3.3 to 3.6 pH that is nearly as acidic as vinegar, Echinus Geyser is the world’s largest acid-water geyser. Although the geyser once faithfully erupted at thirty-five to seventy-five minute intervals, Echinus has exhibited widely sporadic behavior since late 1998. Eruptions that once shot forty to sixty feet high and lasted anywhere from four minutes to 118 minutes are now infrequent. Researchers believe that a secondary water source once supplying the geyser’s major eruptions mysteriously disappeared sometime during the mid 1990s. As with other geysers in the park, however, Echinus may once again become active in the future.
Steamboat Geyser. NPS Photo
Producing memorable eruptions since its first noted outburst in 1878, Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser. When it first exploded, Steamboat hurled boiling mud and boulders into Wyoming’s clear blue skies. Although the geyser calmed down for several years thereafter, a violent 1911 eruption was followed by over fifty years of dormancy. Eruptions occurred with great frequency during the 1960s with the most recent major outburst occurring on May 2, 2000. During its violent three to forty minute eruptions, Steamboat is capable of skyrocketing more than 300 feet (90 meters). The sound is reportedly so deafening that people shouting to one another in the area cannot make themselves heard! After a major eruption, steam then rolls from the geyser for hours upon end.
Full eruptions such as these are highly unpredictable, and minor eruptions are the norm. Most of Steamboat’s activity is limited to irregular ten to forty-foot bursts of water and steam.
Historically a small geyser that occasionally boasted minor eruptions, Porkchop Geyser began changing its behavior in 1985 with regular eruptions. Four years later, Porkchop violently spewed rocks and water more than 216 feet away. Since this outburst, Porkchop Geyser has transformed itself into a calmly roiling hot spring.
Green Dragon Spring. NPS Photo
Green Dragon Spring
Characterized by a unique cavern shape, the sulfur-lined Green Dragon Hot Spring is noted for its boiling green water. Clouds of steam, however, frequently mask the spring’s beauty. On warm summer afternoons, though, the steam will frequently clear for a few minutes and allow patient visitors a glimpse inside Green Dragon Spring.
Drawing its name from its distinctive fish mouth shape, Whale’s Mouth Hot Spring was appropriately named by a park naturalist in 1967.
Formerly designated Spring 39 in Dr. Peale’s Gibbon Geyser Basin, Crackling Lake was renamed in 1967. Ed Leigh proposed the new name after hearing popping sounds emitted from hot springs lining the lake’s southern shore.
Drawing its name from regular sixty-second eruptions that occurred during the park’s early years, Minute Geyser is now a living testimony to the destructive nature of many of Yellowstone’s nineteenth century tourists. The geyser, which once blew from a large west vent, is no longer capable of such eruptions because early park visitors carelessly clogged the vent with rocks. Smaller eruptions occur irregularly from the geyser’s eastern vent. Although park officials have toyed with the idea of removing the rocks from the west vent, heavy equipment required to complete such a task would likely destroy the entire geyser.